Refuelling adequately after a run is an absolute must. It will help to replenish your body with nutrients lost during exercise, including electrolytes, and stored fuel like glycogen and amino acids. It will also allow your muscle fibers to rebuild and recover in time for your next sweat session, and provide you with the energy you need to power through the rest of the day. Refilling your nutritional bank at the right time and with the right quantities of nutrients will help to avoid the pitfalls that could be stalling your workout success. So here we share our expert advice on the subject, to help you smash your goals.
Whether your long-term running goal is weight loss or endurance, speed or stamina, grabbing a post-workout snack should be your priority, so make sure you fall into the habit of having a nutritious snack to hand or a high-quality recovery protein drink.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to munch down your snack or knock back your protein shake the second you leave the gym. In fact, unless you’ve just exercised on an empty stomach, you can apparently delay your post-workout meal or shake for a while. “Recent research has debunked the 45-minute magic window myth and shown that, to maximise muscle protein synthesis and recovery, we should ideally be consuming protein within three hours of a training session,” says Chris Hall, founder of Hall Personal Training (hall-training.com).
Consuming a pre-workout meal containing both carbs and protein allows your body to still use the nutrients for recovery after your workout ends, meaning you don’t have to eat immediately following a stint on the treadmill. “You should get into the habit of eating something, however, within this three-hour window for best results,” he says.
It’ll come as no surprise that protein is needed for recovery. But it’s also important to make sure you get enough macronutrients, and choose sources that are complete proteins. This means they contain leucine, isoleucine and valine, the BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) that can’t be manufactured by our bodies, and are needed for muscle growth and repair. “For split body workouts, aim for 20-25g of protein, or 0.25g per lb of bodyweight, and when performing cardio, switch this down to 0.2g per lb of bodyweight as less muscle tissue is broken down through cardio compared with strength training,” recommends Hall. You’ll easily meet your quota with a protein shake, chicken breast fillet or 100g salmon with a side of veggies.
If you’re working out as hard as you can in a bid to lose weight but just not seeing a shift in the number on the scales, you might be undoing all your efforts by what you’re piling onto your plate post-session. Of course, it’s OK to bend the rules every so often, but indulging after every running session will hamper long-term results.
“Try to be more conscious of the types of food you’re eating after and around your training. Why not see your post-workout protein as your treat, or prepare a healthy snack like homemade protein flapjacks to have once you’ve finished in the gym? This should stop you reaching for the biscuit tin,” advises Hall. And when it is time for a diet reward, just remember to tone down portion sizes and keep calories in check.
Hydrating after a run is a must, but you could be making a mistake with your recovery drink of choice. Sports drinks are a useful recovery aid, but, given their high sugar content, you should only glug a bottle of the stuff if your training session has been pretty intense. “If you’ve been training for over 90 minutes it could be a good idea to have some form of sugar/carbohydrate post-workout, as this will help to replenish muscle glycogen,” explains Hall.
If, on the other hand, you’ve exercised for less than this, then plain old H20 (plus a protein-and-carb-based snack or shake) should be sufficient. Weigh yourself before and after a workout to see how much water you’ve lost and then drink about 150 per cent of the deficit.
If your workout has been more hard- going, you will have lost electrolytes such as sodium and potassium through sweat. These minerals help to keep muscles and nerves functioning properly so, in this case, it’s wise to fuel up on a sports drink that’s formulated with these recovery nutrients, carbs and protein. “You could also make a simple smoothie with unflavoured whey protein and equal parts coconut water and cranberry juice. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes while cranberry juice provides a balance of fructose and glucose,” adds Hall.
Carbs are often painted as a diet demon when you’re trying to shift the pounds, but this macronutrient is super-important post-cardio. “Generally speaking, the greater amount of work done in a session and the greater the duration of the session, the greater the need for carbohydrates.
Carbs help to increase insulin, which helps working muscles to absorb a greater amount of nutrients, and if your training consists of long bouts of exercise, then muscle glycogen will be depleted and need to be restored – this is when carbs post-workout would certainly be beneficial,” says Hall.
Nibble on mashed avocado spread on wholemeal toast followed by a larger meal a few hours later as research shows that consuming frequent meals throughout the day will effectively help to restore muscle glycogen.